Andros Trophy 2015: France’s ice-racing series has become a hit since it began in 1990, attracting stars such as Alain Prost and Yvan Muller. In 2014-15, Jean-Philippe Dayraut won the title in a Mazda 3 that had a 3.0-litre V6, four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering.
Indy Pro 2000 1983-now: Mazda’s one-make series has run since 1983 and served as a springboard for many Indycar stars, among them Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Scott Speed. The engines were rotary until 2018, when a four-pot came in.
Bathurst 1000 1975: Rotary Mazdas have done their fair share of giant-killing on track, the 1975 Bathurst 1000 being a highlight. Don Holland and Hiroshi Fushida fought from 19th up to fifth in their RX-3, with the only cars ahead top-class V8 Holdens.
IMSA Series 2017-new: Mazda remains a front-runner in sports cars with its RT24-P. Built for the IMSA series’ top class, it had its best season in 2019, with three wins. Mazda is in contention for the title this year but will scale back its effort to one car in 2021.
WRC 1985-1991: Mazda was a rally regular from 1985 to 1991. It started with a Group B RX-7, but the Group A 323 4WD was more successful; Timo Salonen won in Sweden in 1987, a feat repeated in 1989 by Ingvar Carlsson, who also won that year in New Zealand.
The first time I ever drove a rotary-engined Mazda – a blue RX-3 coupé – was in early 1973, when I was completely new to road testing. It seemed impossibly smooth and powerful and had a 5500rpm powerband – 2500rpm to 8000rpm – that was completely outside my experience. You have to remember what was around then; Alfa Romeos redlined at 5700rpm and your MGB had a yellow sector at 5500rpm. The mainly pushrod fours we drove were thrashy and horrible. This Wankel was from another planet and would have been the answer to everything but for its unreliability (rotor seals) and fuel consumption (sub-20mpg). Mazda refined it for 40 years but in the end just couldn’t make it clean enough. It was exciting for every year of that journey, though.
I’ve had some great drives in Mazda MX-5s, but I’m far from alone in loving those, so I’ll instead recall a drive that I had 13 years ago in a hydrogen-powered RX-8, around the jaw-droppingly beautiful fjords north of Stavanger in Norway. The driving experience itself wasn’t too momentous (power output dropped by about 40% when the rotary engine was burning hydrogen). But there was something about the combination of the car, the incredible natural setting and the sense that I was sampling the fuel of the future that made it very memorable indeed.